Literature: The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl
is a 2009 Bio Punk
science fiction novel by Paolo Bacigalupi
(pronounced BA-chi-ga-LOO-pi). It won the Hugo
, Nebula, and Locus Awards for 2009.
The events of the novel take place in 23rd century Thailand
. Global Warming
has raised the ocean levels to the point where pumps work continuously to keep Bangkok
above water. Fossil fuels have all but been exhausted; the main sources of portable energy are hand-wound 'kink-springs'. Megacorps
dominate the world through biotechnology — the crops they sell are engineered to be resistant to diseases both natural and man-made, but they're also sterile so their customers become reliant, with some countries like India and Burma run as virtual puppet states for the "calorie companies". Reckless genetic engineering has led to the destruction of the natural ecosystem. The few plants and animals which have been modified to survive are constantly under threat from the latest viral mutations, as is the entire human race.
Throughout the turmoil, Thailand has managed to stay relatively stable by firmly controlling its borders and maintaining a seed bank safe from the Megacorps' "calorie men". However a power struggle within the Thai government threatens to change all that.
This work provides examples of:
- Anti-Hero: Every single point-of-view character.
- Applied Phlebotinum: Kink-spring technology.
- Apocalypse How: Class 1, although it is far from clear that humanity will get back on its feet.
- Artistic License – Linguistics: To say the Thai in this book is like something out of Babelfish might perhaps be too kind. One Thai reviewer noticed half a dozen language errors on the first page alone, and that's before we get into the names...
- Can be explained away by assuming the language evolves in 200 years.
- Ass Shove: With a champagne bottle. The reason why Emiko finally cuts loose...
- Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Corruption is the norm in the Environment Ministry, and even the loyal men of Captain Jaidee grumble over how he doesn't take any 'gifts of goodwill', because they're losing face in front of their wealthier colleagues.
- Beast of Battle: War megodonts (giant genetically-engineered War Elephants) have carbon fibre armour, blades attached to their tusks and machine-gun cages on their backs.
- Big Applesauce: Subverted. The center of power for the agricultural megacorps is Des Moines, Iowa.
- Big Fat Future: Definitely averted. Even in Thailand which is relatively well off foodwise, only the very wealthy or foreigners on good terms with the calorie companies put on weight.
- Bittersweet Ending: Anderson dies of cibiscosis, and Kanya massacres his replacement and her team as they pick up their promised seed samples. AgriGen never gets the new material to work with, and Gibbons doesn't seem intent of working on them. This slaughter doesn't endear Thailand to the Westerners, so they don't replace their failing pumps, and the city of Bangkok drowns. Those who survived the coup and flood are now refuges. However, the seeds are not lost as the preservers move them to another secret vault, and Gibbons promises to remove the Windups' limitations, promising a far brighter future for the artificial race and possibly for the planet as a whole - his interventions seem to have global influence.
- Chekhov's Gun: In a small paragraph early on, it mentioned how Hock Seng has his hopes riding on the new kink-springs, which only have a 75% rate of working. So without its inventor's knowledge, he introduces pig DNA into the algae bath (in his culture, pigs are good luck). Later on in the story, this is likely the cause of the new plague outbreak once the baths are left to spoil.
- Church Militant: The Grahamites are violently opposed to biotechnology and the corporations that do business in it.
- Crapsack World: Oh, where to start? The planet is dominated by evil corporations who ruthlessly control governments and people alike, the very food humanity lives on is engineered to generate dependence on said corporations, terrible plagues haunt both humanity and vegetation (and some of them are implied to be man-made to enforce more dependence on plague-proof engineered crops), corruption is rampant at all levels, local areas are controlled by people who rape and kill for the hell of it, genetically engineered humans are treated as slaves, and the few people who try to do something about all of this are summarily executed.
- Crippleware: The New People, aka "Wind-ups", are a prime example. First off, their nicknames come from their stutter-stop movement, deliberately engineered in by their designers to make them easier to distinguish from normal humans. Physically they're stronger and much faster, but they're crippled by smaller pores that make them easily overheat whenever they exert themselves. They also have a dog-like need to obey and please. Most importantly, none of them can reproduce. The military versions are explained to be just like the normal ones, including the dog-like behavior, but they don't stutter or overheat. In the end Gibbons promises to remove all the artificial crippling.
- Emiko and others like her are designed with smaller pores to make their skin ultra-smooth, which adds to their appeal as a Sex Slaves and servants, but in Emiko's case it means she can't sweat enough to be comfortable in Thailand's humidity.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: On a genetic scale. Cheshires are so much more effective than cats that their introduction brought about the end of felis domesticus in a few generations. It's also heavily implied this is what would happen to humanity if New People weren't designed to be crippled and with a dog-like need to please. And then Gibbons promises to change that...
- Designer Babies: The Windups, Emiko included. They were genetically engineered without the ability to reproduce, a lesson learned from the spread of the Cheshires. Gibbons promises to Emiko he plans to change that.
- Disney Owns This Trope: The disease-resistant grains shipped by calorie companies are sterile, so no-one can steal the 'intellectual property' involved in developing them. This has the effect of making countries which buy them slaves to the Mega Corps. The conspirators are shocked when Anderson offers Thailand the grain before sterilisation as an Enemy Mine incentive.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Dog Fucker casually mentions raping and killing a minor character because she interrupted his free time.
- The Dog Bites Back: Emiko snaps when she realises her owner is never going to let her go, kills him with her bare hands, then runs into the room where she'd just been sexually abused and humiliated as per usual and kills the client and his bodyguards. The client happens to be the Somdet Chaopraya, the most powerful man in Thailand.
- Evil Chancellor: The Somdet Chaopraya.
- Earth That Was. Anderson views an old picture of a Thai farmer showing a fat tourist his array of fruit and vegetables, and is furious over their total ignorance of their good fortune. In his world where most food crops have died out from plagues, pests or competition from genetically-engineered strains, such a stockpile of diverse calories would represent enormous wealth.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Trade Minister Akkarat isn't willing to hand over his country's seed bank to the calorie companies, as it's the only guarantee of his country's independence. And when the Somdet Chaopraya is murdered all Thais — no matter how villainous — are outraged by this attack on royalty.
- Evil Genius/Evil Cripple: Gi Bu Sen AKA Gibbons
- Flanderization: Thailand as a whole.
- Flechette Storm: Spring-guns fire razor sharp discs, and eventually we see machine-gun versions.
- Fingore: Akkarat tortures Anderson by breaking his fingers.
- Foreign Fanservice: Inverted as blonde-haired, blue-eyed Anderson is regarded as ugly by Thai standards.
- Ghostly Goals: The Thais are haunted by the spirits of the dead (phii) who can't resurrect as they don't deserve the Crapsack World they'd be reborn into. After Jaidee is killed by the Trade Ministry, a guilt-ridden Kanya finds herself being followed around by his phii in full Deadpan Snarker mode.
- Girl-on-Girl Is Hot / Double Standard: Rape, Female on Female: Emiko is a "performer" in a brothel where she is publicly raped by a non-genetically-engineered woman nightly for the amusement of the patrons. What makes it worse is that her body is literally programmed to respond positively to sexual stimulus, so she doesn't even have a choice about enjoying it or not, only feeling shame and disgust after the fact. The final club scene heavily implies that audience participation is a regular feature of her act. Whether this counts as Fanservice is very YMMV.
- Grey and Gray Morality: None of the characters can really be called heroes. The 'good guys' act with questionable methods, and their motives are often just as self-serving as the 'bad guys'. Emiko is the most sympathetic of the bunch, probably as she gets very little chance to act on her own accord at least until she snaps.
- Just to drive the point home: even though the reader is told that Gi Bu Sen/Gibbons is pure evil, and in the few scenes he gets it's quite clear he has a significant A God Am I complex, he is still arguably the most heroic character after Jaidee.
- Have You Told Anyone Else?: Averted. When 13-year old Mai discovers two sick workers, Hock Seng considers killing all three to prevent the white shirts burning down the factory to stop a pandemic. He packs them off to the hospital instead.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Kanya becomes The Mole after her village was burnt by the white shirts; she ends up doing the same thing to contain the pandemic.
- How the Mighty Have Fallen: Emiko, the title character, was a pampered Sex Slave / Office Lady for a Japanese businessman who abandoned her in Thailand because he'd rather update to a new model than spend the money to ship her home. She now spends every night being raped and humiliated for the amusement of brothel patrons, in a climate that's too hot for her genetically-engineered body. Hock Seng was once a wealthy ship merchant in Malaysia before a fundamentalist uprising led to the destruction of his business empire and the death of every member of his clan.
- I Have Your Wife: Jaidee's wife is kidnapped and a photograph of her Bound and Gagged is slipped under the door of General Pracha. Jaidee is forced to resign in a humiliating public ceremony in the hope that she'll be released unharmed. She isn't.
- Incurable Cough of Death: Anderson succumbs to a version of this at the end of the novel when he contracts the mysterious illness that had been brewing in the algae tanks at his factory.
- Interservice Rivalry: General Pracha (in charge of the Environment Ministry) and Trade Minister Akkarat loathe each other, and are engaged in a constant battle for supremacy which eventually ends in open war.
- Irony: Akkarat boasts how he intends to see Pracha live out his days as a disgraced monk in the jungle; that turns out to be Akkarat's fate after losing Bangkok to the floodwaters.
- Dramatic Irony: Anderson dismisses his coughing up blood as a side effect of the torture he went through at Akkarat's hands... even though the audience knows that he's been exposed to a new and deadly disease from the algae baths.
- Jeanne d'Archétype: Kanya becomes this by the end of the book, including the Hearing Voices and becoming a nationalist icon.
- Karma Houdini: Dog Fucker, the character the audience arguably most wants to die horribly, doesn't. The Dung Lord gets the spring blueprints, too. However, while it's likely that the two of them get away without any consequences, the blueprints that the Dung Lord has are of flawed prototype and Dog Fucker stole them from the factory that was contaminated with the new plague. Considering how long it took for the victims to show symptoms, both of them might be dying offscreen.
- Kill It with Fire: Burning villages and great swathes of jungle is often the only way the white shirts can stop pandemics and pests. The Grahamites are notorious for burning the occasional genetically-engineered crop as well.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Inverted with Captain Jaidee; he knows he's fighting a futile battle against corruption and the illegal importation of genetically-engineered food, but enjoys sticking it to powerful people too much to stop.
- Knights Templar: The Grahamite Church. The 'green headbands' in Malaysia. The Environment Ministry ('white shirts') in their heydey.
- Mega Corp.: Lots of them. AgriGen, PurCal, U-Tex, Total Nutrient Holdings.
- The Mole: Akkarat's people recruited Kanya to infiltrate the Environment Ministry after her village was torched by General Pracha. Kanya realises too late that Akkarat is no less corrupt and ruthless.
- Morality Pet: Emiko for Anderson, Mai for Hock Seng, and Kip for Gi Bu Sen.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Too many to list, but Kanya's massacre stands out.
- No Blood for Phlebotinum: Thailand has fought its neighbours for coal resources.
- Noodle Incident: Whatever mess happened in Finland.
- Odd Couple: Ever-cheerful Cowboy Cop Captain Jaidee Rojjanasukchai and his Number Two, Emotionless Girl Lieutenant Kanya Chirathivat.
- Post Peak Oil: Kink-springs are needed for portable energy now after petroleum supplies were exhausted, while less portable installations make use of animal power. A big deal is made of one character's ownership of an actual fossil-fuel-burning car - running which is so expensive as to make it the ultimate show of wealth.
- Punk Punk: A mix of Biopunk, Springpunk, Musclepunk, Coalpunk and Dungpunk.
- Properly Paranoid: Hock Seng is a Yellow Card - a Chinese refugee from the fundamentalist-led genocide in Malaysia. He lives in a constant state of low-grade fear and paranoia, waiting for the time when the Thai will find it similarly expedient to massacre the Yellow Cards or kick them across the border back to the Malay.
- Rescue Romance: After Anderson saves Emiko from an attacker.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The Dung Lord and Trade Minister Akkarat own limousines powered by coal-diesel engines, an unbelievable extravagance.
- Sexbot: Emiko, though she's not a robot.
- Schizo Tech: Factory production lines driven by genetically-engineered animals, treadle-powered computers, elevators using human counterweights, coal-diesel tanks fighting alongside war-megodonts.
- Shout-Out: The "Cheshires" in the story are explicitly named after the Cheshire Cat in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, due to their genetically-engineered Chameleon Camouflage.
- Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: Emiko. Turns out the 'geisha' windups are just as fast as the military windups.
- Tank Goodness: Coal-diesel powered tanks. Such a heavy, fuel-inefficient vehicle can only be justified for military use.
- Truth in Television: Ask Monsanto what a "terminator" seed is. Agribusinesses have already adopted some of the practices mentioned.
- The Unreveal:
- Exactly what role Anderson played in Finland is never fully elaborated on.
- What happened after Yates reached for the spring-gun.
- Whether Dog Fucker tortured, raped and killed Doctor Chan as he claimed.
- What happened with the super kinksprings after the Dung Lord got the blueprints.
- The Verse: The Windup Girl is set in the same world as Bacigalupi's short stories "The Calorie Man" and "The Yellow Card Man" with references to both in the text.
- Villain Protagonist: Any of them could be, depending on which of profiteering, piracy, or violent Nationalism you consider most evil.
- Villain Ball: The calorie companies dominate the world market due to their genehacked crops and animals, but also end up wiping out most of the natural environment and creating viral mutations that could end up killing everyone on Earth. Akkarat dumps Jaidee's mutilated corpse outside the Environment Ministry, which causes the white shirts to rise against him. Anderson introduces the Somdet Chaopraya to Emiko, causing his death. Hock Seng embezzles Anderson's bribe money, leading to his equipment being held up, then burned, in customs. Anderson orders Hock Seng to get the factory running no matter what — Hock Seng is forced to use the old infected vats, which end up incubating the disease that kills Anderson.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Wind-ups and Cheshires (chameleon-like cats) are believed not to have souls, so it's perfectly acceptable to kill them. Only one Thai questions the morality of this, and wonders if his previous job killing cheshires hasn't led to his dead relatives being reincarnated as wind-ups in karmic punishment.
- With My Hands Tied: Akkarat tries to shove a bound Jaidee off the roof of the Environment Ministry. As Jaidee's a former Muay Thai kickboxing champion this turns out to be a bad idea. Unfortunately Jaidee is gunned down by Akkarat's bodyguards before he can send Akkarat over the edge.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Averted by Emiko's former employer, who should have had his wind-up destroyed but set her free instead. Given what Emiko endures afterwards, this is a questionable act of mercy.
- We Are Everywhere: When Anderson's partner looks like he's distancing himself, Anderson points out that while Akkarat may be the power in Thailand, the megacorporation he works for rules everywhere else.
- World Half Empty: Ohhhh, yeah.
- Zeppelins from Another World: There's no more petroleum, so international trade is conducted via clipper ships and dirigibles.